Sanchez launched VIDA this past July with the mission “to provide accessible, culturally relevant, arts and engagement opportunities that enhance the well-being and quality of life (of) our Latinx community.
On the chilly Monday evening following this past Thanksgiving, nearly 200 farmworkers and their families filed into the Springs Community Hall to enjoy a warm meal of pozole verde, tacos and quesadillas.
They picked out free clothing from racks that had been wheeled into the hall — and gathered care kits, a small monetary gift, and pamphlets about COVID-19 health precautions and various community services from information tables set up along the walls.
The event was a Farmworkers Dinner of Gratitude, held to show appreciation for the Valley’s many agricultural laborers whose hard work helps feed the world – even throughout a global pandemic.
“We wanted to ensure that the farmworkers know that they are not forgotten essential workers and that we appreciate them,” event host Angie Sanchez said following the dinner. “We know that these pop-ups won’t solve the injustices in the fields, but we do know that this is one step toward building relationships with farmworkers, (and provide) a space to share their stories.”
It wasn’t the first event Sanchez and her fledgling nonprofit VIDA held to honor the contributions of the Valley’s Latinx community – and it certainly won’t be the last.
“VIDA translates to ‘life,’” Sanchez told the Index-Tribune. “And we just want to highlight the lives of the people who have brought so much to (Sonoma Valley).”
And in only its first six months, VIDA has been quite busy highlighting Latinx life through art and culture. In addition to the Farmworkers Dinner of Gratitude, the nonprofit has hosted celebrations for Mexican Independence Day, Dia de Los Muertos and, earlier this month, held a Celebration of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe and Community Posada, where guests enjoyed live music and free pozole, punch and churros.
And more events are on the way, she said. “We’re trying to get creative and not just put on your traditional Day of the Dead,” she said. Ideas include hosting more popup events in various locations and offering multi-generational learning, such as a pinata-making workshop or another farmworker appreciation event near Cesar Chavez Day on March 31.
The lives and well-being of farmworkers and their families are subjects close to Sanchez’s heart – her parents were farmworkers and she is fully aware how the schedules of ag-industry laborers make it difficult to take advantage of – or even know about – the various social services available to them.
Still, her parents carved out what limited time they had to give back to their community – Sanchez says they were among the original volunteers with Ligia Booker when she founded the Latinx advocacy nonprofit La Luz Center in 1985.
“I’ve always been around doing things like this in the community since I was little,” said Sanchez, 34. “I feel like I was born into doing community work.”
Sanchez said she’s been working for nonprofits since she was 18, including two separate stints at La Luz, as well as three years for the Community Action Partnership in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael. It was in her role as Community Engagement Manager for La Luz where she really cut her teeth, organizing the nonprofit’s annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations and creating a bilingual game, Censoteria – a twist on the Mexican bingo game Loteria – to help raise awareness and participation in the 2020 U.S. Census.
Sanchez left La Luz in 2020 to become Head of Programs for Corazon Healdsburg, but she said her heart was in the Sonoma Valley and the onset of COVID-19 only reinforced her longing to work in her community.
“It was in the middle of the pandemic, and I really missed my community and to do the community engagement in a culturally relevant way,” Sanchez said. That’s when her plans to establish VIDA came to life, as it were.
She says she still has a close relationship with La Luz and envisions the two nonprofits working in a complementary fashion, with her organization staging culture and outreach events where community members can also learn about the many resources offered by La Luz and other advocacy groups serving Latinx communities.
“If I’m working an event and have somebody in need of mental health services, I can connect them with the family advocates at La Luz,” she said. “Or I can tell La Luz, if they know of anyone feeling isolated, we have a community posada coming up.
“I’m not going to be focusing so much on services, but helping with outreach.”
For the time being, VIDA is a bare-bones operation – “I’m a team of one,” she says – but she’s got a dependable team of volunteers and is partnering this spring in a program with the Sonoma State University career center that could provide her with a small handful of interns each semester. And if VIDA continues to grow, she’s hoping grant opportunities may eventually allow for the addition of paid staff.
A long-term goal would be to establish a form of community center in the Springs, a “hub for the community to learn about traditions and hold cultural workshops” or simply for families to have some space to gather in a more-fully Spanish-language environment. She’s visited similar centers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose. “Farmworkers would say, ‘I just wish there was a space where I could go in the afternoon and just play dominoes,’” Sanchez said.
For now, though, Sanchez is just hoping to build upon the successes of VIDA’s first six months – and to keep the momentum rolling.
“It’s something I’m so passionate about, I just hit the ground running,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like my calling.
“I just love being able to do this in my own comunidad, my own backyard.”
Email Jason Walsh at Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org.